Matilda Dixon was adored by all the children of Port Fairy for her generosity and kindness. The question is, why did this kindhearted individual turn into a vengeful evil spirit that haunts and murders the children of Port Fairy? There may not be one specific cause, but several reasons could have contributed to Matilda’s metaphoric process from a loving childhood icon to a child murdering banshee. Contributing factors could be traced back to the loss of her husband, her unorthodox practice of collecting teeth, the prejudice that she experienced from the town’s people, and her lynching that ended with her cursing the town’s people
The first contributing factor for Matilda’s transformation was dealing with the loss of her husband. Matilda Dixon, born Matilda Schultz, was like everyone else in the town of Port Fairy. She led a normal life working hard at a bakery and had married a sailor by the name of Sonny Dixon. One night, in 1836, Sonny’s ship the Guiding Light was lost at sea during a storm. In this storm, 15 sailors lost their lives including Sonny Dixon. Matilda was devastated that the love of her life was gone, and his death left a gaping hole in her heart that could not be filled. The loss of a loved one is shattering and leaves us with so many unanswered questions that we would have longed to communicate with those who have passed away. Throughout the centuries many cultures believe that communication with the dead is possible and claim that the living can reach out to the dead by using special techniques and rituals. Senior Lecture in the school of Psychology Dr. Tassell-Matamua explains “humankind has told of conversing with the dead for millennia. The tales transcend civilizations and time” (Tassell-Matamua 107). It could be said that Matilda longed to hear from her long-lost love Sonny and sot ways to reconnect with him choosing a path which would lead her down a dark road. Matilda would find a way to bridge this connection using the baby teeth of the children of Port Fairy.
Another contributing factor was Matilda’s unorthodox collection of baby teeth. Matilda was childless and had no other family to comfort her in her time of loss. Matilda loved to bake and would try to pass the time spreading cheer among the children of Port Fairy, but the loneliness was unbearable, and the time spent with the children was not enough. Matilda longed to speak with her husband Sonny, so she decided that she would try to find a way to do this. Whenever a child would lose their tooth, she would bake them a special cake in exchange for their tooth, earning her the name The Tooth Fairy. The towns people thought this practice a little odd but ignored it because it brought joy to the children, and Matilda seemed harmless enough. What was unknown to the people of Port Fairy was that Matilda was collecting the teeth for their magical properties. Matilda wanted a way to communicate with her dead husband Sonny and would use the teeth to obtain this desire. According to Professor Charles Allen, “few people have ever thought about or given consideration to the large place the teeth occupy in magic, sorcery and folklore. Since the earliest times and among all primitive races, teeth, especially human teeth have occupied an important place in magic ceremonies, sorcery, incantations, the practice of magic, and the working of charms” (Allen 722). Tooth lore and practices have changed throughout the ages, thus some people believed that it was important to dispose of baby teeth correctly in fear that a witch would obtain them and put a curse on the individual. Teeth were swallowed, burned or buried so that this would not happen.
Further evidence of her unorthodox practices leads the towns people to believe she was practicing witchcraft. The Children of Port Fairy would continue to seek Matilda whenever they would lose a tooth in order to get a taste of her yummy treats, until one night an oven fired swept through her kitchen. The towns people hurried to her home to put out the fire, but Matilda had already put the fire out, but not before she had burned her face and most of her body. Matilda refused to let the town’s people in her home to help her and sent them away. Matilda had become more reclusive and she did not allow the children to come over anymore from that time on. She hid her face behind a porcelain mask and dark cloak because of her burns and sensitivity to sunlight. The town’s people became suspicious of what had happened that night of the fire. It was said that it was not her baking that caused the fire in her kitchen, but that Matilda was practicing witchcraft and, that she consorted with evil spirits to gain the ability to communicate with the dead. Matilda crossed a line that she will never be able to return from and her punishment was to live a life in darkness never to feel the sunlight on her face again due to her burns. Cohen states in thesis V that “the monster stands as a warning against exploration of its uncertain demesnes” (Cohen 12). Matilda’s sadness caused her to explore the realm of witchcraft which is forbidden in most cultures. Witches have been around for centuries; they are the mediators between human beings and spirits. One of the earliest records of a witch (medium) is found in the Bible in the book of 1 Samuel. It tells the story of when King Saul consulted with a medium to summon the dead prophet Samuel’s spirit for advice for how to defeat the Philistine army. Matilda isolated herself from the rest of the town except for that her desire to collect the children’s teeth continued. Matilda would continue to collect the baby teeth of the children of Port Fairy but under the cover of darkness. The children placed their tooth in a handkerchief and tacked it to door of their home. Matilda would wait for the town to sleep before going and collecting the teeth but instead of leaving a baked treat she replaced it with a gold coin. The towns prejudice towards Matilda grew and she was soon under scrutiny.
Another contributing factor of Matilda’s metamorphism into an evil specter was the growing prejudice of the town’s people. Matilda was no longer seen as a kind generous woman who had lived amongst them. The town’s fear and gossip had turned Matilda into something monstrous. Cohens monster thesis IV tells us that “the exaggeration of cultural difference into monstrous aberration is familiar enough (Cohen 7). The town’s fear of Matilda grew in their eyes, so she was no longer one of them but an outsider, a monster. One day two children had supposedly ventured off to visit Matilda’s home but never returned home that night. The town’s people were enraged with anger stemming from fear of the unknown. The father of the children formed a mob from the drunken men in the tavern. Without question the town’s people made their way to Matilda’s house, drug her out from her home, and hung her on a nearby tree till she was dead.
The children were found later that night returning from the next town over. The whole town witnessed the death of Matilda, and the whole town was guilty of murdering an innocent woman. The town of Port Fairy turned into the very monster that they feared and would have to live with their actions for the rest of their lives. The town buried Matilda along with their secret but secretes have a way of resurfacing. Cohen tell us in his monster theses VII that “this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine” (Cohen 20). The murder of Matilda Dixon was the town’s contribution to the creation of a vengeful spirit that Matilda would become. Matilda was dead, but this would not be the last time that the town of Port Fairy would see her. Matilda had cursed the town with her dying breath saying, “what I took in kindness I will take in vengeance.” This was the precipitating cause that transformed Matilda Dixon into an evil child murdering banshee of Port Fairy. She would return to visit the children of Port Fairy when they would lose their last baby tooth killing all those who looked upon her porcelain masked face.
The conclusion is that Matilda Dixon was not really a monster, but she was someone who became a monster because of her vengeful spirit. Investigation into the life of Matilda Dixon and the sequences that lead Matilda down a road to her inevitable transformation from kind heart soul to a tooth collecting killer leads one to believe that there was not just one event that caused this spiral into a life of monstrosity but multiple contributing factors. Factors such as the experience of dealing with the traumatic loss of her husband and her unorthodox practices of tooth collecting, also the prejudice of the town’s people that lead to her a hanging and her cursing the town. These were contributed to the creation of a monster.
Allen, Charles Channing. “The Teeth in Sorcery and Magic.” American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Volume 3, issue 12, 722-728
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture: Seven Theses.” From Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 3-25.
“movieweb Darkness Fall The Legend of Matilda Dixon MovieWeb com.” YouTube, uploaded by Samuel Thompson, 8 April 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GYSf32mJ_Y&t=33s
Tassell-Matamua, Natasha A. “Brief Report: Phenomenology of Near-Death Experiences: An Analysis of a Maori Case Study.” (2013).